The Human Brain Defaults to Magical and Paranormal/Religious “Beliefs”


It is a cultural The question for professionals in business, the professions and policy is do “beliefs’ correlate and cause behavior. For example, do beliefs correlate or cause consumption behaviors, medical, voting actions?  I haven’t seen any evidence, so far.

Study finds belief in aliens and religious belief share a similar psychological motivation
New research suggests that paranormal beliefs about extraterrestrial intelligence are linked to the need to find meaning in life.

The study found these paranormal beliefs about aliens were at least partially motivated by the need for meaning. A lack of meaning and a desire to find it were linked to greater belief in aliens, and experimentally heightening the need for meaning increased paranormal alien beliefs. The study also found that atheists and agnostics reported greater belief in aliens, which was in turn associated with a lack of meaning.

…there is reason to believe that certain non-religious magical beliefs such as belief in supernatural energy, agents, and forces are actually increasing as is general interest in the paranormal. So one possibility is that it is not that people leaving traditional religion are becoming more secular but instead that are switching to other types of religious-like beliefs and interests to pursue spiritual needs… religious and spiritual beliefs are derived, in part, from underlying cognitive traits. So, for example, some people tend to be more intuitive thinkers whereas others tend to be more rational. It is actually a bit more complex than that but the basic idea is people naturally vary in the extent to which they prefer to rely on intuitive or more analytical thinking. …the same cognitive traits that predict level of spirituality among believers similarly predict level of non-religious spirituality among atheists. Likewise, among atheists, these traits predict a range of atypical or nontraditional religious-like beliefs.

…Motivational processes also matter. For example, people tend to turn to religion when they experience stress, anxiety, loss, or uncertainty. Their faith is a stabilizing force, particularly when their sense of meaning in life is under threat…Though whether or not someone identifies as religious certainly influences the specific belief they turn to in order to affirm meaning, it does not necessarily mean non-religious people don’t use the same underlying cognitive processes for meaning-making.

…We found support for a model in which low religiosity (and atheism) were associated with low perceptions of meaning and a high desire to find meaning (what is called search for meaning), and this desire for meaning in turn predicted ETI belief. In other words, people who were not getting meaning from religion were vulnerable to deficits in meaning and these deficits inclined them to search for non-traditional sources of meaning.

Why ETI beliefs in particular?…they do suggest that we are not alone in the universe. And intelligent aliens are often construed as agents watching over us. A lot of specific ETI beliefs involve being part of a cosmic brotherhood…the type of ETI beliefs we measured were more science fiction than science. They involved belief in advanced being monitoring humans as well as government conspiracies to hide evidence of UFOs from the public…trying to be part of something more meaningful and enduring than the transient and fragile existence inherent in being a biological organism. People are even creating new techno-religions that take ideas from transhumanism and inject some dimensions of spirituality. It is fascinating how modern secular people are modifying and repurposing ideas from older spiritual practices to approach existential questions about death and meaning.

existential questions and spiritual interests. These people tend not to be particularly dogmatic. They are just inclined to see certain types of questions and issues as being worth examining from a more spiritual perspective. I realize some hardcore skeptics reject this approach, but, nevertheless, it is the approach to life many people take.

…I hypothesize that there are underlying religious-like cognitive, social, and motivational processes at work that are making certain fields in the humanities and social sciences increasingly dogmatic and religious-like. In particular, it is the fields that have been most seduced by postmodernism and social constructionism that are the most religious-like.

Decades of research shows that traditional religious beliefs and identifications do a good job of providing meaning and protecting meaning when life events like the loss of a loved one or a terminal disease diagnosis threaten meaning. But there is no compelling reason to suggest, based on my studies, that ETI beliefs do the same. All my work shows is that when people lack meaning and are looking for it, they are more inclined to be open to and interested in paranormal beliefs.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s